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THE PIONEERS Powered By Docstoc

As this work professes, in its title-page, to be a descriptive tale, they who will
take the trouble to read it may be glad to know how much of its contents is literal
fact, and how much is intended to represent a general picture. The author is very
sensible that, had he confined himself to the latter, always the most effective, as
it is the most valuable, mode of conveying knowledge of this nature, he would
have made a far better book. But in commencing to describe scenes, and perhaps
he may add characters, that were so familiar to his own youth, there was a
constant temptation to delineate that which he had known, rather than that which
he might have imagined. This rigid adhesion to truth, an indispensable requisite
in history and travels, destroys the charm of fiction; for all that is necessary to be
conveyed to the mind by the latter had better be done by delineations of
principles, and of characters in their classes, than by a too fastidious attention to
New York having but one county of Otsego, and the Susquehanna but one
proper source, there can be no mistake as to the site of the tale. The history of
this district of country, so far as it is connected with civilized men, is soon told.
Otsego, in common with most of the interior of the province of New York, was
included in the county of Albany previously to the war of the separation. It then
became, in a subsequent division of territory, a part of Montgomery; and finally,
having obtained a sufficient population of its own, it was set apart as a county by
itself shortly after the peace of 1783. It lies among those low spurs of the
Alleghanies which cover the midland counties of New York, and it is a little east
of a meridional line drawn through the centre of the State. As the waters of New
York flow either southerly into the Atlantic or northerly into Ontario and its
outlet, Otsego Lake, being the source of the Susquehanna, is of necessity among
its highest lands. The face of the country, the climate as it was found by the
whites, and the manners of the settlers, are described with a minuteness for
which the author has no other apology than the force of his own recollections.
Otsego is said to be a word compounded of Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or
Sago, the ordinary term of salutation used by the Indians of this region. There is
a tradition which says that the neighboring tribes were accustomed to meet on
the banks of the lake to make their treaties, and otherwise to strengthen their
alliances, and which refers the name to this practice. As the Indian agent of New
York had a log dwelling at the foot of the lake, however, it is not impossible that
the appellation grew out of the meetings that were held at his council fires; the
war drove off the agent, in common with the other officers of the crown; and his
rude dwelling was soon abandoned. The author remembers it, a few years later,
reduced to the humble office of a smoke-house.
In 1779 an expedition was sent against the hostile Indians, who dwelt about a
hundred miles west of Otsego, on the banks of the Cayuga. The whole country
was then a wilderness, and it was necessary to transport the bag gage of the
troops by means of the rivers—a devious but practicable route. One brigade
ascended the Mohawk until it reached the point nearest to the sources of the
Susquehanna, whence it cut a lane through the forest to the head of the Otsego.
The boats and baggage were carried over this “portage,” and the troops
proceeded to the other extremity of the lake, where they disembarked and
encamped. The Susquehanna, a narrow though rapid stream at its source, was
much filled with “flood wood,” or fallen trees; and the troops adopted a novel
expedient to facilitate their passage. The Otsego is about nine miles in length,
varying in breadth from half a mile to a mile and a half. The water is of great
depth, limpid, and supplied from a thousand springs. At its foot the banks are
rather less than thirty feet high the remainder of its margin being in mountains,
intervals, and points. The outlet, or the Susquehanna, flows through a gorge in
the low banks just mentioned, which may have a width of two hundred feet. This
gorge was dammed and the waters of the lake collected: the Susquehanna was
converted into a rill.
When all was ready the troops embarked, the damn was knocked away, the
Otsego poured out its torrent, and the boats went merrily down with the current.
General James Clinton, the brother of George Clinton, then governor of New
York, and the father of De Witt Clinton, who died governor of the same State in
1827, commanded the brigade employed on this duty. During the stay of the
troops at the foot of the Otsego a soldier was shot for desertion. The grave of
this unfortunate man was the first place of human interment that the author ever
beheld, as the smoke- house was the first ruin! The swivel alluded to in this
work was buried and abandoned by the troops on this occasion, and it was
subsequently found in digging the cellars of the authors paternal residence.
Soon after the close of the war, Washington, accompanied by many
distinguished men, visited the scene of this tale, it is said with a view to examine
the facilities for opening a communication by water with other points of the
country. He stayed but a few hours.
In 1785 the author’s father, who had an interest in extensive tracts of land in this
wilderness, arrived with a party of surveyors. The manner in which the scene
met his eye is described by Judge Temple. At the commencement of the
following year the settlement began; and from that time to this the country has
continued to flourish. It is a singular feature in American life that at the
beginning of this century, when the proprietor of the estate had occasion for
settlers on a new settlement and in a remote county, he was enabled to draw
them from among the increase of the former colony.
Although the settlement of this part of Otsego a little preceded the birth of the
author, it was not sufficiently advanced to render it desirable that an event so
important to himself should take place in the wilderness. Perhaps his mother had
a reasonable distrust of the practice of Dr Todd, who must then have been in the
novitiate of his experimental acquirements. Be that as it may, the author was
brought an infant into this valley, and all his first impressions were here
obtained. He has inhabited it ever since, at intervals; and he thinks he can answer
for the faithfulness of the picture he has drawn. Otsego has now become one of
the most populous districts of New York. It sends forth its emigrants like any
other old region, and it is pregnant with industry and enterprise. Its
manufacturers are prosperous, and it is worthy of remark that one of the most
ingenious machines known in European art is derived from the keen ingenuity
which is exercised in this remote region.
In order to prevent mistake, it may be well to say that the incidents of this tale
are purely a fiction. The literal facts are chiefly connected with the natural and
artificial objects and the customs of the inhabitants. Thus the academy, and
court-house, and jail, and inn, and most similar things, are tolerably exact. They
have all, long since, given place to other buildings of a more pretending
character. There is also some liberty taken with the truth in the description of the
principal dwelling; the real building had no “firstly” and “lastly.” It was of
bricks, and not of stone; and its roof exhibited none of the peculiar beauties of
the “composite order.” It was erected in an age too primitive for that ambitious
school of architecture. But the author indulged his recollections freely when he
had fairly entered the door. Here all is literal, even to the severed arm of Wolfe,
and the urn which held the ashes of Queen Dido.*
  * Though forests still crown the mountains of Otsego, the bear, the wolf, and
  the panther are nearly strangers to them. Even the innocent deer is rarely
  seen bounding beneath their arches; for the rifle and the activity of the
  settlers hare driven them to other haunts. To this change (which in some
  particulars is melancholy to one who knew the country in its infancy), it may
  be added that the Otsego is beginning to be a niggard of its treasures.
The author has elsewhere said that the character of Leather-Stocking is a
creation, rendered probable by such auxiliaries as were necessary to produce that
effect. Had he drawn still more upon fancy, the lovers of fiction would not have
so much cause for their objections to his work. Still, the picture would not have
been in the least true without some substitutes for most of the other personages.
The great proprietor resident on his lands, and giving his name to instead of
receiving it from his estates as in Europe, is common over the whole of New
York. The physician with his theory, rather obtained from than corrected by
experiments on the human constitution; the pious, self- denying, laborious, and
ill-paid missionary; the half-educated, litigious, envious, and disreputable
lawyer, with his counterpoise, a brother of the profession, of better origin and of
better character; the shiftless, bargaining, discontented seller of his
“betterments;” the plausible carpenter, and most of the others, are more familiar
to all who have ever dwelt in a new country.
It may be well to say here, a little more explicitly, that there was no real
intention to describe with particular accuracy any real characters in this book. It
has been often said, and in published statements, that the heroine of this book
was drawn after the sister of the writer, who was killed by a fall from a horse
now near half a century since. So ingenious is conjecture that a personal
resemblance has been discovered between the fictitious character and the
deceased relative! It is scarcely possible to describe two females of the same
class in life who would be less alike, personally, than Elizabeth Temple and the
sister of the author who met with the deplorable fate mentioned. In a word, they
were as unlike in this respect as in history, character, and fortunes.
Circumstances rendered this sister singularly dear to the author. After a lapse of
half a century, he is writing this paragraph with a pain that would induce him to
cancel it, were it not still more painful to have it believed that one whom he
regarded with a reverence that surpassed the love of a brother was converted by
him into the heroine of a work of fiction.

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